Virginia tech's current designation as ACL U has more to do with anterior cruciate ligaments than with the protection of civil liberties. Starting quarterback Grant Noel tore his left ACL in April during a noncontact drill, and rather than opt for reconstructive surgery—which would end his college career—Noel, a fifth-year senior, will play with the tear. He spent the past four months strengthening his knee through exercise and physical therapy.
Noel's injury is not the first ACL nightmare for Virginia Tech. Senior running back Lee Suggs (1,207 yards, 27 touchdowns in 2000) was lost for the 2001 season after he tore his left ACL in last fall's opener against Connecticut. After reconstructive surgery, Suggs says his knee is feeling as good as new. How the fragile ligaments of Noel and Suggs hold up will determine whether the Hokies will be a national power or a knock-kneed also-ran. "Playing after [ Michael Vick], there have been a lot of critics, and that motivates me," says Noel, who promises to be under center against Arkansas State on Aug. 25. "I'd like to shut all those people up."
If Noel can't make it through the season, coach Frank Beamer has a talented sophomore quarterback in Bryan Randall and a heralded freshman recruit named Marcus Vick (brother of you know who). The back-field should be among the best in the country with Suggs and a star-in-the-making in sophomore Kevin Jones (957 yards in '01). Aside from health, the biggest question is whether the inexperienced receivers can take the pressure off the tailbacks.
On defense Virginia Tech must replace six starters. While junior linemen Nathaniel Adibi and Cols Colas and a veteran secondary should help, the Hokies suffered yet another heartbreak when junior cornerback Eric Green tore his left ACL in late July during a workout. So it goes for ACL U. "We're a team that's hard to put a true evaluation on," says Beamer. "There are just a lot of unknowns."